Composting in winter can be easy and stress-free if you have the right materials and proper compost location. Despite freezing temperatures, your kitchen waste can become a stream of compostable matter.
If you’re planning on keeping your compost bin active during the coming winter months, then read our expert tips and techniques on starting a compost pile in winter and preserving it well.
- How to Compost in the Winter?
- How To Activate
- How To Speed up
- Indoor Composting
- Can You Compost During Winter?
How to Compost in the Winter?
Preparing the right bin and choosing the most suitable location are the first essential steps in composting during the winter season. In comparison to other seasons, composting in winter is slow, but cold weather composting is not impossible. You will need to follow these techniques to get it right:
– Get the Right Bin
Get the right bin for your compost pile in winter. Pick a bin with a tight lid to retain heat within. It will also keep away pests such as bears, rats and raccoons.
You can use a galvanized trash can. For lower volumes of food waste, a food-grade 5-gallon bucket will also do. If you have more room, opt for a compost tumbler, and a drum compost bin is another good option.
– Choose a Warm Place
Place the bin in the warmest area of your outdoor or indoor space. We suggest you place it as close to your kitchen as possible. This will ensure that you wouldn’t require to walk in the cold to dump your waste.
– Collect Kitchen Waste
Include more browns along with green scraps when you are adding scraps to the compost bin. Adding more browns prevents the fermentation of the materials.
You can add the following green scraps to your pile:
- Greens such as vegetable waste
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves and tea bags (without the paper and staples)
Brown wastes that you can include are:
- Dried leaves
Avoid incorporating processed food waste, as well as meat and dairy.
– Freeze Scraps
If you lack the time to add your waste to your compost bin every day, you can opt to freeze the scraps and add them to the bin at a later time.
Pick a heavy-duty bag to freeze your scraps in the kitchen freezer. Chop or blend them into bits before freezing to help them break down faster.
– Add the Frozen Scraps After Thawing
It is important to thaw your frozen scraps before adding them to the compost bin. This is because decomposition will begin to happen only when the condition is warm enough for it. Frozen scraps will take way too long if you add them into the bin directly.
How To Activate
You can activate compost in winter by insulating the bin and protecting the contents from icy winds. Decomposition of compost in winter is slower and may even go dormant, however it can be kindled well. Here is how you go about it.
– Keep the Pile Warm
It is the bacteria, fungi and microbes that break down organic matter in the bin. In cold weather, these microbes become sluggish and slow down the composting process. To make them work effectively, you need to give them heat.
Thus, keep your pile warm enough. Move your compost bin near chimneys, vents or any outdoor barbeque units. A dry and well-sealed garage can do the job as well.
– Insulate Your Bin
As microbes need heat to activate the compost, insulate your bin well from inside and outside using layers of straw, sawdust or leaves.
When an activated compost generates heat, this insulation is required to retain it well within the pile and bin.
– Use Compost Activators
Compost activators have a high concentration of nitrogen. This ingredient helps in activating it quickly. Compost inoculators are another popular choice that possesses microbes within. These microbes directly work on the compost pile to get the process started.
It is not mandatory to use activators and inoculators. However, they can give an initial kick start to the process, especially during winters. Other suitable compost activators can be urea, blood meal, bone meal, coffee grounds and horse manure.
– Check Moisture Level
Compost piles require moisture to decompose. The ideal level should be similar to a damp sponge. The pile should not be too dry that it crumbles, nor should you be able to squeeze water out of it.
If there is excess water in your pile:
- Aerate the pile by turning it in and out.
- Leave it under the sun.
- Add brown organic material such as leaves or wood shavings.
If the pile is too dry:
- Add water and turn the pile in and out.
- Keep it out of the sun.
- Add more green material as these give it the much required wetness.
– Add Brown Materials to Your Pile
Winter compost requires more brown materials over the greens. They aid in activating the compost, reducing the moisture, and preventing the pile from freezing.
Thus, increase the volume of brown materials in the compost pile by adding more dried leaves, twigs and branches collected and stored from the fall season.
How To Speed up
Breaking the pile into smaller pieces and using hot bins are some effective ways to speed up the process as Winter composting can tend to become a slow affair. Here is how you can do it.
– Break Materials Into Smaller Pieces
An easy way to speed up compost in winter is to break up your material into smaller pieces. Shred the scraps, leaves and twigs before you add them to your compost pile. This will make the job of the microbes easier.
The smaller the size of the materials, the faster the decomposition. Mixing leaves with grass clippings promotes decomposition too.
– Use Hot Bins
Hot bins are extremely well-insulated bins that can rapidly produce compost with small amounts of material. They have double layers of insulation that prevent any escape of heat and entry of cold winds. Hot bins are available in most gardening and hardware stores.
– Avoid Certain Materials
Some materials take a long time to decompose. To speed up your winter composting, avoid adding plants treated with weed killers.
You will also need to avoid leaves and woods from pine, juniper or spruce. If you are adding woody twigs and branches, put them through a shredder chipper first.
– Build the Pile Right
Build your winter compost pile to 3 or 4 feet on each side to allow retention of heat. Additionally, when you add to the layers, sprinkle a handful of topsoil or winter composting substance. This will provide a source of microorganisms.
– Add Worms
Worms are a great resource in winter composting. This works best when the outside temperatures are between 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
– Turn the Pile
Turning the pile in and out gives it some air. It boosts the micro-organisms by heating the compost.
Empty the bin and refill it with the material. Turn the sides in and spread the compost evenly. Finally, add some water to the pile regularly to make it break down more quickly.
You can also try composting indoors during winter. The procedure is not greatly different from outdoor composting. Here are two common methods of composting indoors.
- Aerobic composting: In this procedure, you create compost in a bin using microbes from the garden soil to activate the pile.
- Vermicomposting: Similar to aerobic composting, with the only difference being that you use worms along with soil microbes to convert scraps into compost.
Store compost in the winter in dry spaces typically under stairways, the basement, or the garage. This way, you will also be able to easily drop food scraps into the bins instead of having to venture out into the cold.
Winter composting is not difficult; it just requires you to pay attention to a few details. Here are some helpful tips by which you can protect your compost pile in winter.
– Keep the Carbon Within
Ensure your compost has the right mix of greens and browns. Where the greens provide the nitrogen, the browns give carbon to the compost pile. You can generate green material from your kitchen scraps and brown material from outside spaces.
– Prepare Well for Winter Composting
As brown material is required in quantity during winters, begin preparing for it during fall. Gather leaves, dried grass clippings, twigs and bales of hay or straw and store them in a dry place.
As discussed earlier, winter composting requires slightly more brown materials.
– Insulation Is Vital
Keep the compost bin well insulated. Use cardboard, straw or thick, dried leaves and place them around the bin. Use a bin with a tight-fitting lid to trap the heat within and also protect it from pests.
You can also stack up straw bales around the compost bin to reduce the chill from the wind factor. Do not worry about snow, as it in itself is a good insulator.
– Choose the Right Location
Apart from insulation, it is also important to place the bin in the right location. If you have a patch where you receive sunlight, place your pile in that location. Direct sunlight is the best way to heat a pile of compost.
– Track the Temperature
Tracking the temperature helps to ensure your compost pile stays activated. The ideal temperature lies between 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you find decomposition slowing down due to a drop in temperature, add nitrogen-rich material. This will help the pile increase in activity.
– Monitor Moisture
Moisture is vital in ensuring your compost turns out right. If you find your pile beginning to turn soggy, throw in some brown material. Turn the pile in and out to create aeration.
For dried-out piles, sprinkle just the right amount of water to keep it moist. Keep the bin tightly shut so that melting snow water does not trickle in.
– Monitor the Materials That Go Into the Pile
Avoid processed food waste in the pile. Apart from this, you will also need to avoid any pest-ridden garden material. Do not add diseased barks, leaves or stems to the pile.
– Use Compost Tumblers
Compost tumblers can help you produce year-round compost. This is a closed bin system that helps to spin the compost mix. The tumbler provides the required aeration through vents.
The dark color of the tumbler keeps the compost warm. With a tight lid, it keeps away pests and also prevents the loss of heat of the pile. The compost remains odor-free as well. This makes compost tumblers an efficient way to keep compost activated throughout the winter.
Can You Compost During Winter?
Yes, composting in winter climates is possible by following the correct procedures. The drop in temperature can make decomposition slow, but it will not stop the process completely.
Decomposers such as fungi, bacteria and earthworms can survive in compost piles throughout the year. They can break down organic matter as long as the compost pile is not completely frozen. To be able to compost during winter, you will need to ensure the following:
- Keep your pile from freezing. Frozen compost is not going to be of much use.
- Use larger bins with tight-fitting lids. This will insulate the heat.
- Make a composition with the right mix of materials. Your mix will require both carbon and nitrogen.
How often should I turn a compost tumbler in the winter?
In the winter, turn the compost tumbler every 3-4 weeks to prevent it from freezing and to keep the decomposition process going.
How long does it take for a compost pile to heat up during winter?
Compost piles can take longer to heat up in winter due to colder temperatures, and may take 3-6 months to reach the optimal temperature for decomposition.
Can I compost in my garage during winter?
Yes, you can compost in your garage during winter, but ensure proper ventilation and use a compost bin or container to prevent odors and pests.
You can keep your compost bin active all year round. To maintain the pile active during winter, you will need to do the following:
- Prepare well for winter composting.
- Set up a winter compost bin in a warm spot.
- Insulate the bin well, inside and outside.
- Check moisture levels.
- Use compost activators if required.
- Add more brown materials to your pile during the winter.
- Break your waste into small pieces to speed up the process.
- Monitor the material that goes into the pile.
Composting in winter is an easy task provided you take care of a few factors. With these tips, you can now ensure your kitchen waste is put to good use even when the temperatures start to drop.
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